This has become one of my favorite recipes. I love a pork shoulder any way I can get it, whether smoked and slow roasted, stewed in a spicy bath, braised in rendered lard for carnintas, or chopped fine and cooked to a crisp before simmering in a sauce for some tender tendrils of pasta. I don’t consider myself a fanatic when it comes to pork, but then I remember the pork shoulder.
The idea for this came a few years ago from Nigella Lawson’s book Nigellisima—her culinary love song to Italy. In it she gives a recipe for lamb steaks served with a quick pan sauce of melted anchovies, minced thyme, and rosato vermouth. I loved the idea. I attempted to emulate it but, at the time, I lived in a place where boneless lamb leg steaks were unheard of—most parts of the lamb were, frankly—and getting my mitts on rosato vermouth was an impossible feat. I made due with lamb chops, the hardship that it was, and a mix of rosé wine and white vermouth. It was a revelation for me, this use of those punchy little fish and rosé. I had used anchovies with beef before, in stews and braises and the like, but I’d never even considered it with anything like lamb. The rosé brought a certain, almost floral nuance that I can’t imagine achieving with anything else.
It got me to thinking about pork. Funny transition, I know, but so many things that pair with lamb work with pork, too. According to my own personal bible, The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, anise, apricot, black pudding, cabbage, chestnut, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, dill, garlic, rhubarb, thyme, and shellfish are just among some of their overlapping affinities. To that, I’d like to add anchovy, for the obvious reason, chilies (c’mon!), and mint—lamb and mint are obvious, but pork and mint are a classic combination for Laotian larb. At any rate, I thought that if this works for lamb it just might for pork—I wasn’t wrong.
I smear a bone-in pork shoulder with plenty of garlic—don’t worry, it can handle it—anchovies, and fresh thyme that have been minced and smashed into a paste. You can of course, as you might with lamb, cut slits into the meat and stuff slivers of garlic and anchovy into them; either way let the meat sit in it’s piquant marinade for at least over night before you sear it a hot Dutch oven before being braised in rosé wine. I know that I based it on something for which Italy was the muse, but I can’t help but feel like it’s so Parisian. Maybe it’s because some of the old, more French-focused cookbooks I inherited from my grandmother and mother years back use anchovies with such nonchalant calm, or my inexplicable association with thyme to France (rosemary belongs to Italy).
I loathe to say it, passé as it is now, but don’t be afraid of anchovies—it’s the fault of bad pizza chains that obligatorily stock anchovies that, I’m sure, are allowed to sit for too long before being topped on subpar pies and cooked inadequately, resulting in something that tastes like a cross between rusty nails and dried rubber bands, stuck to the bottom of a paver’s boot. When dealt with properly, cooking gently, they melt into the most savory, salty, and mellow mush so rich you’ll wonder how you got along without them. If you leave them uncooked they can take some getting used to but here they become so savory, adding to the pork’s own natural saltiness and balancing its sweet overtones. With lamb, which can be sweeter and even a bit funky, the anchovy balances the gaminess and makes it savorier, and even meatier.
It doesn’t really matter where it would call home or who would claim it, and that’s not the point any way; it’s incredibly delicious and, while it takes several hours to cook, the vast majority of it is it sitting in a low oven, almost totally undisturbed. I like to serve this with roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts (or butter-steam them by melted some butter in a Dutch oven, tumbling in the potatoes and sprouts, turning the heat to low, covering, and letting them simmer gently, cooking in the steam of the butter) and a green salad along with—something simple like baby arugula or some chicory or other. Whatever liquid remains in the pan after the braise gets thickened a bit, not to the point of being a gravy or anything, but rather a silky and unctuous sauce that’s so mellow, but still so complex and complicated—brooding, really.
I love this just shredded with a fork and plunged back into the sauce, but you can also cut the finished pork into slices to serve, though don’t be surprised when it falls apart a bit as you do. A sandwich of the tender meat on a crusty, grainy French baguette, smeared with soft butter on the inside, would be good, too.
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